Veterans’ Credit Ratings Could Be Jeopardized
By Sandra Basu
WASHINGTON — The VA is taking too long to reimburse non-VA healthcare providers, a problem that could result in veterans being billed for the services, panelists told a House of Representatives subcommittee last month.
“The federal government has a responsibility to ensure that our veterans receive the best healthcare we can provide,” said Asbel Montes, Acadian Ambulance Service vice president of reimbursement and government affairs. “It also has a responsibility to ensure they are not required to bear an unjustified financial burden because the VA fails to pay non-VA providers in a timely and accurate manner.”
Montes and other representatives from organizations that provide services to veterans testified before a House subcommittee last month where they detailed challenges they faced when dealing with VA. These challenges included slow reimbursement, as well unaccounted for or lost medical documents that were sent to VA.
Lawmakers pressed VA officials to take responsibility during a hearing on the situation.
“The problem I have with VA is that it is never anybody’s fault,” said
, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs’ health subcommittee. “There is actually no one responsible.”Excessive claims processing times and paperwork requirements for non-VA providers are “especially acute for the majority of ambulance service providers that serve as the local 911 responders in their communities,” Montes pointed out, especially because those providers are “prohibited from refusing emergency treatment for any patient, regardless of payer source and ability to pay.”
Failure to pay these providers in a timely fashion “puts providers in the difficult position of having to bill veterans for emergency treatment,” he noted.
Montes told lawmakers that his Lafayette, LA, company and many members of the American Ambulance Association have seen a recent escalation of lack of payment from VA, with their accounts receivables due from the VA growing in excess of $30 million outstanding over 90 days.
Furthermore, he alleged that an audit done by VISN 16 showed no record of 768 claims, even though the company sent the claims to the VA through certified mail with confirmation of receipt.
“VISN 16 has sent reports to our congressional delegates with a number that would indicate improvement, but our data clearly indicates the opposite,” Montes said.
Also testifying was Vince Leist, president and CEO of North Arkansas Regional Medical Center in Harrison, AR, who testified on behalf of the American Hospital Association. He told lawmakers that the continued inability to obtain timely payment from VA and its contractors hinder access to care for veterans who need outside services from nonfederal hospitals.
“Many veterans worry about claims that are not paid promptly or are left unpaid, and they are left in a difficult position of trying to get claims paid, often while battling illness,” Leist testified. “It is an untenable position for both veterans and hospitals.”
Addressing the Problem
Gene Migliaccio, VHA deputy chief business officer for Purchased Care, told lawmakers that the VA “owns the problem of aged claims,” and is “fixing the problem.”
VA has “experienced tremendous growth in the volume of claims” provided by community providers since the implementation of the Accelerated Care Initiative which began in May of 2014, he explained.
“VHA has received 34% more claims from January 2015 through April 2015 compared to January 2014 through April 2014,” according to Migliaccio.
Steps are being taken to rectify reimbursement processing issues, including hiring more staff, he noted, adding that VA is now able to process a “clean claim,” which is one that has no defect or impropriety, within 22 days.
Some lawmakers seemed skeptical about the progress, however.
“This is not the first time that I have been at a hearing where we have several people testify about how things are from their perspective, and then we have a VA person give us a litany of all the great things that the VA is doing to improve the situation,” Benishek said.
VA officials also promised that they would provide the committee an answer to the 768 claims in question. They acknowledged there are parts of the country where the “processes aren’t, you might say, functioning seamlessly and timely.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers said that they were concerned about the impact of delayed reimbursements on veterans.
“What safeguards are in place to prevent veterans from incurring financial harm, poor credit ratings because of the delayed VA reimbursements to fee-basis care providers?” asked Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA).
Migliaccio responded that the VA is looking to put some systems in place so that it “doesn’t get to where the veteran is harmed.”
“We are going to focus on our people, business processes, and I want to look at technology also,” he explained.
Migliaccio further acknowledged that, while the problem for veterans exists, it is not “as severe as we think.”
Ruiz suggested that a poor credit rating due to slow VA reimbursement for even one veteran “is severe.”
“If this situation arises, we will work with the providers that send the bills to adjudicate those claims quickly,” Migliaccio responded. “We will also write letters to credit agencies to clear up credit reports.”